By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Millions of Nigerians have by now watched the videoclip of Vice President Namadi Sambo’s disturbing anti-Christian tirade during a campaign speech in Niger State in which he basically declared the All Progressives’ Congress as a Christian Party with a token Muslim presidential candidate, and the People’s Democratic Party as the Muslim party with only a token Christian presidential candidate. If you haven’t watched it yet, watch it below. It’s trending wildly on Nigerian social media circles.
“We want to call your attention to people who bring religion to politics. In PDP, if you look really well, you will realize that our chairman is a Muslim. Similarly, the Director General of our campaign is a Muslim. And again, I Namadina Namadina Sambo am a Muslim. Only our presidential candidate is a Christian. But in APC, the chairman of their party is a Christian. And again the Director General of their campaign is a Christian. And again, their Vice Presidential candidate is a pastor. In light of this, which party is more Muslim? PDP! PDP! PDP!” he said in Hausa.
This isn’t the first time the vice president has made such patently divisive appeals to religion in public. At almost every campaign stop in the Muslim north, he constructs Manichean binaries between “good” Muslims, which the PDP supposedly represents but masks with a Christian figurehead president, and “bad” Christians, which the APC supposedly embodies but cleverly conceals with a token Muslim presidential candidate. In other words, contrary to the narrative that PDP publicity secretary Olisa Metuh has popularized, PDP is the real “Janjaweed party.”
This is really a new low even by the primitive standards of Nigerian politics where vulgar appeal to base primordial emotions is the norm in electioneering.
At no time in Nigeria’s history has the second most important person in the country openly declared adherents of one religion as less worthy than those of the religion he professes. This has got to be the most vulgar and unvarnished display of unadulterated bigotry by a political leader of Sambo’s stature.
This is curious, especially coming from a person who couldn’t even properly recite Sūrat al-Fātiḥah, the first chapter of the Qur’an, in another religiously tinged campaign stop in one of the far northern states.
My six-year-old, all-American girl, Maryam, was able to spot two errors in Sambo’s recitation. I was laughing hysterically after I listened to the audio tape of Sambo’s bungled recitation when my daughter asked to know what was going on. I told her one old man couldn’t recite Surat al- Fatihah. She insisted I play it for her, and was able to isolate two errors in Sambo;s recitation.
It’s none of my business, nor should it be anybody’s, if Sambo can’t recite the first chapter of the Qur’an, which most Muslims learn from the age of 3 or earlier, but a man who invokes Islam to legitimize his quest for political power and to demonize his opponents should at least demonstrate basic competence in the religion. Now several Muslims are calling into question Sambo’s claims to being a Muslim. They say real Muslims recite the Fatihah during prayers at least 17 times every single day, making it the most recited chapter in the Qur’an. That’s why it’s second nature to most Muslims. A Muslim who can’t properly recite it mustn’t be a real Muslim, they say. It’s not my place to sit in judgment over Sambo’s religiosity.
It’s just that it so often happens that people who are quick to rouse religious passions to achieve political goals are usually the least religious people. We have seen that from the accounts of people who have escaped from Boko Haram’s terror camps. They describe their Boko Haram tormentors as drug-addicted homicidal maniacs who have no care for religious piety in their personal lives. Just yesterday, I watched an interview that CNN’s Christiane Amanpour had with former ISIS hostage Didier François, who revealed that his ISIS captors weren’t even observant Muslims. He said he asked them for a copy of the Qur’an and they couldn’t give him one in the nearly 11 months he was held captive. Yet they did all the bestial murders of innocent souls in the name of a religion they neither knew nor cared about.
I hope when President Jonathan said sometime ago that he had Boko Haram members in his cabinet, he wasn’t referring to Vice President Namadi Sambo. Sambo’s exaggerated appeals to his religious identity during political campaigns even when he obviously knows next to nothing about his religion (as evidenced from his inability to recite the most basic portion of his religion’s holy book) fits the pattern of Boko Haram and ISIS terrorists.
This is probably an extreme extrapolation—and I apologize if I am totally wrong—but Sambo’s unwarranted and invidious invocation of religion at every campaign stop in the north demeans his office and person and endangers the nation’s fragile peace. He needs to stop it now!
To be fair, even the APC plays the religious card, too, sometimes subtly and at other times explicitly, but I have never heard General Buhari or Professor Osinbajo play to the religious gallery on the campaign trail. And the Vice President has more symbolic power than Buhari and Osinbajo. That’s something to chew over.